24 June 2005

Iraq: From the people on the ground

I must confess that I sometimes lapse into blogger bravado, claiming that we will someday completely replace reporters. But in saner moments, I realize that most of us simply don't have the time to gather the hard facts. Blogging is thus limited to opining on the latest news as it trickles forth from the standard news outlets. One happy exception to this is the growing number of blogs that report news from where the news is happening. While these bloggers may have only a limited perspective, they frequently have greater familiarity with the actual facts on the ground. In most cases, I would take the word of someone living or working in a place over that of a reporter who temporarily flew into an area or simply wrote up an article based on a press conference. Today, I perused the blogosphere searching for the latest news out of . These are some of the reports that I found:

A number of bloggers (even those who support the war) lament the tremendous government waste and corruption. For example, there's this from Jackie in Iraq:

State Department’s bureaucratic regulations and confusion really make me wonder about this whole mission. I think people really have no idea what’s going on. Money is tremendously wasted, from Steve’s totally unnecessary PSD team that cost the government about $2 mil per year to keep up, to stupid regulations for timesheets and the waste of time and paper to process them. Invest in International Paper, they’re a gold mine, just in government contracts alone!!

The more inefficiency I see, the less I support the mission out here. There are much more efficient ways to run this place, but that’s not the government’s strong point. It’s amazing how much money the US could save if the government didn’t waste billions and billions of dollars on crap: tons of unnecessary office supplies, contracts for life support which include paying KBR $40/person for shitty dfac meals, programs, regulations, and policies for travel around the country, but no resources to support DOS policies.

Other bloggers discuss the sorry state of Iraq's infrastructure, noting in particular, problems with water, electricity, sewage, and roads. The following excerpts come from Baghdad Burning:

Water has been a big problem in many areas all over Baghdad. Houses without electric water pumps don’t always have access to water. Today it was the same situation in most of the areas. They say the water came for a couple of hours and then disappeared again. We’re filling up plastic containers and pots just to be on the safe side. It is not a good idea to be caught without water in the June heat in Iraq.

The electrical situation differs from area to area. On some days, the electricity schedule is two hours of electricity, and then four hours of no electricity. On other days, it’s four hours of electricity to four or six hours of no electricity. The problem is that the last couple of weeks, we don’t have electricity in the mornings for some reason. Our local generator is off until almost 11 am, and the house generator allows for ceiling fans (or “pankas”), the refrigerator, television and a few other appliances. Air conditioners cannot be turned on and the heat is oppressive by 8 am these days.

There were also several explosions and road blocks today. It took the cousin an hour to get to work, which was only twenty minutes away before the war. Now, he has to navigate between closed streets, check points, and those delightful concrete barriers rising up everywhere.

What people find particularly frustrating is the fact that while Baghdad seems to be falling apart in so many ways with roads broken and pitted, buildings blasted and burnt out and residential areas often swimming in sewage, the Green Zone is flourishing.

Unlike Cheney, who assures us that everyone arrested is a bad egg, those closer to the action tell a different story of arbitrary arrests and torture:

From Baghdad's Burning:

Detentions and assassinations, along with intermittent electricity, have also been contributing to sleepless nights. We’re hearing about raids in many areas in the Karkh half of Baghdad in particular. On the television the talk about ‘terrorists’ being arrested, but there are dozens of people being rounded up for no particular reason. Almost every Iraqi family can give the name of a friend or relative who is in one of the many American prisons for no particular reason. They aren’t allowed to see lawyers or have visitors and stories of torture have become commonplace. Both Sunni and Shia clerics who are in opposition to the occupation are particularly prone to attacks by “Liwa il Theeb” or the special Iraqi forces Wolf Brigade. They are often tortured during interrogation and some of them are found dead.

Michael Yon (a reporter with a blog!), on the other hand, points out the military importance (as well as dangers) involved with capturing insurgents:

Capturing the enemy creates a cascading effect through the insurgency. A dead enemy is just dead. Game over. But every singing captive leads to another and another and another, and Deuce-Four can hardly keep pace with the flow of information. As sobering as the casualty numbers are for May, the number of insurgents captured and in custody in that same month—133—are a strong indicator of the success that is mounting. The success comes with a high price: it's always more dangerous to capture an enemy than to kill him.

Michael Yon applauds the freedom and access that the U.S. military has provided reporters. Asserting that casualty counts are accurate, Yon puts the numbers in perspective and states a dire conclusion--that a civil war has already begun:

Iraq has a population approaching that of California; but in the region most under siege by insurgents, it's closer to that of Florida. Imagine if Florida had 800 deaths in one month caused mostly by bombings, shootings, and beheadings. We would call that civil war. Calling it that is the easy part. Stopping a civil war takes a lot more—more determination, more skill, more ammunition and armor, and more faith in the value of a future that is drastically different from the present. Mostly, stopping the civil war in the Sunni Triangle will take time.

(Nur al-Cubicle provides some lists of casualty reports for June that provide a sense of the current lawlessness of the country.)

An ideal source of information about the war should be coming from soldiers in the field. Unfortunately, soldiers' blogs may be subject to censorship (or self-censorship) due to policies requiring soldiers to register their blogs. My advice to all soldiers--don't register anything! You have a right to free speech. If you don't have this right, there sure in the hell isn't much point in fighting abroad for "democracy." Fortunately, many soldiers are speaking out regardless of the threats of would-be censors.

Some soldiers have complained of a negative bias of some reporters. Zachary (A Soldier's Thoughts) while remaining fairly upbeat about the U.S. military, expresses doubts about the hows and whys of the current war:

I believe more and more each day that things like freedom can't be given. They must be fought for and earned to have value. Perhaps that is one of the reasons that the Iraqi people don't rise up against the insurgency themselves.That isn't the only way that things could have been better. We could have come here initially with ENOUGH troops. Troops to close the borders (which are still mostly left open) from foreign fighters, and enough troops to have brought security and stability to the cities.

Other soldiers have a more upbeat sense that the war is winnable. For example, we find on Citizen Frank (albeit, from a March post):

It is still dangerous here in Baghdad. There are still occasional mortars and rockets and suicide bombers, etc...
However, the frequency and intensity of such attacks have tapered off dramatically.

Other upbeat comments can be found among Iraqi blogs such as Ibn Alrafidain's blog or this from the Mesopotamian:

Just a quick note, to the American public: this is no time to lose heart, the fight is just now changing gear. We the Iraqis are confident of winning this battle. This so-called “insurrection” may be characterized as the “Unpopular Revolt” rather than the opposite. It is doomed to failure.

Zachary also has an upbeat prediction about Americans' ability to see through the current smoke-screen of deception.

At the same time right now we have a Grizzly bear we call America. Unfortunately it is a Grizzly which is asleep and is kept that way by being fed its daily dose of FOX "Fair and Balanced" medicine. This medicine is fortified with essentials which keep most Americans happily oblivious to what is happening in Iraq and to news stories like the Downing Street Memo... It won't be long however, until this Grizzly wakes up and when it does it is going to be pissed that it has been lied to and so many have been killed because of those lies.


Mr. Natural said...

"Other soldiers have a more upbeat sense that the war is winnable. For example, we find on Citizen Frank (albeit, from a March post):"

How things have changed, eh? GREAT POST and great blog, thank you. Please check out the freeway bloggers if you are not aware yet.


Karlo said...

I'll definitely check out. Thanks Joe.